Managing indigenous seed-inhabiting microbes for biological control against Fusarium pathogens in corn
The pathogenic fungus Fusarium threatens the integrity of corn crops in the form of blights and deadly mycotoxins. Pathogenic Fusarium can reside in seeds, complicating efforts to control its spread. Biological control microorganisms are a promising organic alternative to disinfecting seed treatments, but their practical use is limited by our understanding of their ecological roles in agricultural ecosystems. Industrially-produced microbes may be incompatible with the local ecology of the farm, and therefore have no guarantee to protect the plant or persist on the farm after initial inoculation.
This project will explore the use of indigenous seed-inhabiting microorganisms as biological control agents against Fusarium in corn, as they have the potential to provide heritable resistance against disease. Field trials will be conducted in collaboration with two Willamette Valley farms and Oregon State University (OSU) to:
- Measure the efficacy of biological seed treatments for control against the Fusarium pathogen
- Test the interactions between seed disinfection practices and biological seed treatments
- Assess the abilities of biocontrol organisms to be inherited in the seed
The OSU Botany Field Lab contains a field that is intentionally maintained with high disease pressure from Fusarium pathogens, so effective pathogen trials can take place. The commercial organic farms are growing Cascade Ruby-Gold, a hardy, open-pollinated flint corn variety that was bred and adapted to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The farms, presently not afflicted with noticeable Fusarium pathogen pressure, will help test the overall health of treated plants, and the persistence of microbial inoculants across generations using organic practices. Ultimately, the goal is for the methods employed in this research to be transferrable to other local efforts for preventative management of seed-borne diseases.
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